DC has steadily increased its library of more mature, creatively unrestrained titles since the debut last year of DC Black Label. Now, acclaimed creator Jeff Lemire is launching two miniseries through the imprint, beginning today with Joker: Killer Smile. Reuniting Lemire with longtime collabortor Andrea Sorrentino, the three-issue miniseries delves deep into psychological horror as the Joker's latest psychiatrist in Arkham Asylum begins losing his sanity in a mental game of cat-and-mouse with the Clown Prince of Crime.
In an interview with CBR, Lemire discussed the timeless appeal of Batman's archnemesis, his ongoing partnership with Sorrentino, and building a grittier, more horror-tinged vision of Gotham City.
CBR: Jeff, the Joker is perhaps at his apex of visibility today thanks to the successful solo film. What do you think makes him such a captivating, charismatic villain, both creatively and as a fan?
Jeff Lemire: Well, I think visually he is an incredible looking character. So iconic. He mixes the familiar (clown) with the horrific. And psychologically, he represents what we could all become if we crossed a line, and that is scary as well. Like Batman he is not a superpowered, or supernatural threat. He is real. He is human. I think all of these things add up.
With that said, what did you and Andrea want to add or change as you both established your own approach to the character?
I think we wanted to present a very grounded and very realistic version of both Gotham and the Joker. This will not be the heightened, gothic architecture that we sometimes see in Gotham. It will be a very spartan, very realistic looking city. And the Joker’s design reflects this as well. He looks like a real man.
We also wanted to play around with the idea of the suburbs of Gotham. The people who live just outside of the city and commute in every day. I haven’t seen a lot of that in the past. And in this case, it’s a man who spends his days in Arkham, interacting with madness incarnate and then goes home to the suburbs and his family and tries to leave that behind.
You've worked with Andrea steadily since your Green Arrow run; what makes him such a natural collaborative partner and what made him right for this story?
We just captured lightning in a bottle when we started working together. There was just this natural chemistry between us that showed up on the pages. I think we both like to experiment, and we push and allow the other to do that fully. That brings out the best in both of us.
Andrea’s style leans towards the darker aspects of the human condition, so seeing him draw Joker and Gotham was a natural fit. It was his idea to pursue this project, he initiated it.
Describe Ben, the protagonist of the miniseries and our P.O.V. character into the Joker's twisted mind games.
Ben is very smart and very confident. He thinks he can succeed where everyone else has failed with the Joker, and his hubris is his greatest weakness. And the second you expose a weakness to Joker, you’ve already lost.
This is very much a story about an inner battle for Ben’s soul. On one side you have Joker, on the other his family.
Ben is a family man and a father. Much of your previous work (Underwater Welder, Animal Man, Sweet Tooth) involves the dynamic between fathers and sons. What makes that emotional angle continually intriguing to you as a storyteller?
I try not to dwell too much on that, because we are getting into personal territory and I want to let the work speak for itself. For whatever reason these dynamics have always pulled me, and in this case, I think having a son of my own really influenced the book. The idea of the Joker’s madness infiltrating a family was terrifying to me.
This is the first of two DC Black Label miniseries you've been writing. How has the experience been, especially in comparison to your previous work in the main DC Universe?
It’s been wonderful. We’ve had almost complete creative freedom and support. I’ve worked with both [editors] Chris Conroy and Mark Doyle in the past, and they have always been great to work for. The extended length of the Black Label books really allows for me to dive in deep and not be so restricted by the 22-page format, which is very nice.
What can readers expect across Joker: Killer Smile and the descent into madness you and Andrea have in store for them?
I will say that the end of this story will not be what people are expecting. This is a very different Joker story than what has been done in recent comics or films. I think where this goes, and what comes next, will be genuinely surprising.
Written by Jeff Lemire and illustrated by Andrea Sorrentino, Joker: Killer Smile #1 arrives today from DC Black Label.